Monday, May 23, 2005

What God Owes Jefferson

Right-wing Jews believe that the more conservative the society, the better matters will be for religious conservatives. This is the premise of their politics; but the premise is false. It is, in fact, a spectacular mistake.

In the current TNR, Alan Wolfe tells us why.

Short Summary for Those Foolish Few Who Don't Subscribe

(1) Today's religious conservatives live off the accomplishments of previous generations of religious radicals (think Hassidim, but also certain evangelical groups.) Their willingness to challenge received doctrine, to confront established authority, to dispense with encrusted tradition, to develop their own vernacular, and to insist on the dignity of the individual believer pierced the heart of everything conservative around them. This sort of free exercise requires a free society.

(2) The First Amendment's other clause--the one separating church and state--is also a liberal idea without which conservative religion could not exist. It creates a free market in the salvation of souls, and forces congregations to live or die by their own efforts. European religion--not only in its Catholic form, but also in its various Calvinist and Episcopal manifestations, burdened by the privileges secured by established churches--withered and, in the opinion of many, died. But American religion, banned from the state, infused the culture. The more it was kept out of politics, the deeper would be its reach into every other area of life.